The social network is built on lies. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter lured countless users to join with the promise that they could see everything their friends or favorite celebrities posted in one convenient place.
However, over time, websites were fine-tuned to filter what users saw, regardless of their stated preferences, in order to manipulate their attention and keep them on the platform. Algorithmic timelines quietly replaced chronological ones until our social media feeds were no longer directed from us, but directed us where they wanted us to go.
Recently, this deception has become more transparent. Last month, Elon Musk had his engineers to change Twitter’s algorithm feeds its own tweets to users of the platform, whether they follow it or not. (Musk denies That might seem to say more about Musk’s vanity than it does about social media as a whole. But Musk, in his typically blunt way, was just making it obvious what has always been the case for his industry. Meta did the same when it launched Meta Verified, a subscription service that promised it will provide “increased visibility and access” to paying users.
These developments highlight the harsh reality. as long as we rely on social media sites to dictate what we read, we are allowing them to control what we read, and their interests are not ours. Fortunately, there is already a long-term alternative that provides users with what social media does not: RSS:
Presenting a quarter-century-old technology as if it were new might seem a little odd. But despite the syndication format’s cult following, most Internet users have never heard of it. That’s a shame, because RSS provides everyday Internet users an easy way to organize all of their online content consumption (news, blogs, YouTube channels, even search results for popular terms) in one place, chosen by the user, not an algorithm. . The answer to our relatively recent social media woes has always been there.
But while RSS is surprisingly useful, it can be intimidating to the uninitiated and lacks the subtle marketing and cultural footprint of the social media giants. So I thought I’d offer a simple guide for anyone looking to take back control of their online experience.
Get an RSS reader.
At its core, RSS is an underlying Internet protocol that tracks content published on a given website. To access this material, you need an RSS reader, which converts these feeds into a format you can read on your computer or phone. i used Nutrient for many years and it is extremely easy to manage. just open a link to a website or social media page and the service will automatically grab its RSS feed, if one exists, and add its content. Non-paying users get up to 100 streams, while paying users have no limits. Some other great RSS readers like: Inoreader: and: NewsBlur:– have similar arrangements. And my friends with Apple devices rave about it NetNewsWire, which is completely free. These apps work in your browser and on your phone, so your reading is always synced and available wherever you are.
Fill your reader with subscriptions to things you love to read.
This is the fun part. You want Atlantic Oceanthe latest stories of? There’s a stream for that. Would you rather just follow a specific section? There are feeds for them too. Want to specialize more? There are even unique streams for each individual Atlantic a writer (eg me). Do you like Substack newsletters, but are worried they’ll overwhelm your inbox? They each have an RSS feed, so now you can load their publications into your RSS reader instead and enjoy them alongside everything else you read. You can do the same with your favorite webcomics like xkcd:.
Many sites publicly link to their RSS feeds on their pages, but you don’t actually have to hunt for them. Just copy the URL of any page into your reader, such as “TheAtlantic.com,” and your reader of choice should be able to find any RSS feed associated with it. What’s more, if a page doesn’t have a feed, most of today’s readers can create one for you. And if your RSS reader doesn’t have that feature, you can use an app like Grab the RSS, RSS.app:or Five filters (free but more technical) to create a custom feed yourself, then simply add it to your reader.
Subscribe to social media feeds you don’t want to miss and you’ll never miss them.
Unlike the algorithmic timelines of the social media giants, RSS readers don’t push content based on what they think will and won’t hold your attention. This means you’ll get every post from every social feed you’re subscribed to, regardless of the order it was posted, and you can scroll through and select the items you want to explore. For example, each YouTube channel has its own feed, so you can always find a video published by each artist using RSS. The same goes for Reddit pages if there are subreddits you want to follow. And while it’s not as seamless, creating streams for Instagram and TikTok accounts is also easy. Twitter and Facebook don’t always play well with RSS, but many of today’s readers can get content from them as well.
Get fancy and follow things you can’t do on social media.
Many years ago, as part of my day job covering the Middle East, I met an aspiring right-wing politician and thought he might go there. So me create an RSS feed Search results for all YouTube videos that included his name, which allowed me to follow his rise. This meant that I was ready when, in 2021, Naftali Bennett briefly deposed Benjamin Netanyahu and became Prime Minister of Israel. But such streams of search results can be useful for everyone, not just political junkies. For example, I have one for each YouTube view High Kingsmy favorite Irish folk band, which means my RSS reader catches every live performance they upload, including new songs before they’re recorded in the studio.
Services such as: RSS.app: can take any YouTube search query and turn it into a personalized feed for your reader. Google’s own Google Alerts can do the same for any internet search term. A trick I recommend. Enclose any multi-word search term in quotation marks (such as “vegan birthday cake”) to limit search results to exact mentions of that phrase; otherwise, you’ll get results in your stream that only partially match your query.
T:he internet has introduced many problems into our increasingly chaotic digital lives, but in the case of RSS, it has also provided a solution. The question is whether enough users are willing to implement it.
In 2013, Google shut down its popular RSS client, Google Reader, citing a decline in RSS usage. Today, millions of people still use RSS readers, but many times more use social media sites and don’t even know RSS exists. This imbalance means media outlets and other content providers have a greater incentive to invest in social media infrastructure than RSS support, leading some to abandon the latter altogether. But while the creative output of the Internet deserves our attention, social media companies do not. When the main form of online reading is filtered through the algorithms of capricious corporations that can change what we see at whim both writers and readers suffer. RSS is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way.